The Lee house in Florida City was once part of a larger neighborhood.

The lone house at 653 Lucy St, across from Jay’s Funeral Home, holds many memories for Mr. Fred Lee, Junior. Lee’s parents originally relocated from South Carolina and took work where they could. “I think my father’s first job was working in a grove near what’s the Miami airport. My mother did work on farms in the winter months, then got on at Crane’s Dress Shop near the Margaret Ann Grocery Store in Homestead. My father bought the property for $75 and built the house in 1938.” In the earliest years there were animals in the fenced-in yard with fruit trees. Cows, chickens, a mule, and a pig probably kept things lively. Lee and his sister were the only children, but as he reminisces during a telephone call, “We had a large extended family and ours was the ‘family house’ in that we always had the gatherings there.”

The house was sturdy enough to withstand the Hurricane of 1945; the same storm that devastated Homestead Army Airfield and precipitated its closure. A decade later, his parents were both employed on the base when it reopened as Homestead Air Force Base.

Working hard was something Lee understood. In the years before desegregation, after completing elementary school at A.L. Lewis,

(the previous name for Laura C. Saunders) Lee was bussed each day to Goulds to attend high school. In working part time at the former Western Auto store on Krome Avenue, Lee wasn’t able to participate in sports or other after-school activities. He did meet the lovely Bertha from Perrine in their junior year and the high school romance led to marriage and two children.

There were some leisure activities. “We did go to the ball park on Thursdays to play ball – the boys, I mean,” he said. “They would turn the lights on for us to play. They didn’t really have anything for the girls to do, I don’t think.” There was also The drive-in restaurant, where they could socialize and dance.

In those days, Farmers Bank stood where the Homestead Veteran of Foreign Wars post (VFW) is now and in addition to his account there, he bought savings bonds at the post office. With high school graduation over, Lee cashed in some of those bonds because he and his future wife decided to attend Tennessee State University. He majored in business, which was actually accounting, and went on to work for a number of banks until he was hired by the Small Business Administration. He ultimately retired from that career although he still works part time.

In recalling the neighborhood of thirty or so houses where Lee grew up, he remembered the lack of services except for the nearby Legget store. Even after Lee left, he had always hoped the 3.3 acres of family property could be developed into a commercial zone to accommodate the residents. He envisioned something like a Walgreens, a family-type restaurant, a service center where people could go to pay their bills, perhaps a police substation. “I didn’t want to sell it,” he explained. “I would have done a long-term lease, and had we been able to do so, it would have been the first black development in the area.” Those plans were not to be realized and the property recently passed from the family to make way for the project to widen Lucy Street.

“Fred Lee is a good man, a family man, and I’ve known him for a long time,” Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace said. “The Lucy Street project is important. Sometimes with progress you lose things you’d rather not, but I have to look at what’s best for the City as a whole.”

Despite much of the neighborhood suffering severe damage in Hurricane Andrew, the Lee house once again stood strong. There is an element of irony to the fact of what Mother Nature could not bring down, will instead yield to today’s revival of building.

Lee philosophically understands changes come, but his advice to young people crosses generations. “You have to set an aim in life of what you want to be – whether it’s a doctor or a bricklayer; reach for that goal and when you’ve achieved that goal, don’t let good enough be enough.”

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